All ready for the first day back at school?


New Backpack and lunchbox ✔

Everything labeled clearly ✔

New haircut ✔

Freshly sharpened pencils ✔

Binoculars ✔

Wait a minute… Binoculars???


Eyes on the skies

For the students of Captain Michael VandenBos Public School here in Whitby, the first day back after summer break holds an extra frisson of excitement. Necks will be craned, eyes shaded – a sea of faces will tilt skywards as one, each ear straining to detect the first sound of jet engines.

At 12.30pm without fail, to the collective pride and delight of the local community, Canada’s elite flying team will thunder overhead in heart-stopping, window-rattling characteristic tight formation. This annual fly-by means as much to the members of the squadron as it does to those below; it’s a salute to the memory of one of their own.


Warriors of the air

The Snowbirds are Canada’s equivalent to the UK’s Red Arrows. Officially known as the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, they’re Canada’s military aerobatics team based at CFB Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan. Performing complex manouevres at 600km per hour just 1.2m apart, they’re the epitome of practiced perfection, unshakeable concentration and iron nerve.

Their jets are CT 114 Tutors, designed for training not fighting, and while they don’t perform at the same speeds as the Red Arrows, the distance between each plane is almost half that of the RAF team and the sight of nine jets performing such manoeuvres in formation has been described as ‘aerial ballet’.



VandenBos spirit

But why the special treatment? The answer lies on the school website:


‘Michael VandenBos grew up in Whitby. He was a young man with a childhood dream to become a member of the Snowbirds. He worked hard to achieve this goal and was in line to become the commander of this group. Tragically, he died in a routine training mission south of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan on December 10, 1998. The Durham District School Board decided to honour his memory by naming a new school after this remarkable young man. The Snowbirds pay homage to a member of their own each first day of school with the “flyby”.


The children of the school are encouraged to develop positive life skills in academics as well as extra-curricular activities by following Michael’s example. The children can display the “VandenBos Spirit” by participating in reading programs, sports, Spirit Days and other activities at the school. Perhaps one day, one of our students will be a pilot zooming over the school on the first Tuesday after Labour Day with new little ones waving enthusiastically at the Canadian Snowbirds!


What a beautiful way of keeping a memory alive and an achievement relevant and meaningful to subsequent generations.


Remembering ordinary people who were inspired to perform extraordinary feats is something Canada is particularly good at – stop by next week and find out who Terry Fox was and why every child in the country knows his name.


Special thanks to Davina Jones for telling me about the annual Snowbird fly-past here in our sleepy little corner of Ontario…